Guinea-Bissau’s president has said the government had the situation under control after what the African Union and a regional bloc called an “attempted coup”.
“I am well, thank God,” Umaro Sissoco Embalo said on Tuesday on Twitter. “The government has the situation under control.”
Embalo said “many” members of the security forces had been killed in a “failed attack against democracy.”
Appearing in a video posted on the presidency’s Facebook page hours after gunfire was heard near a compound where he was chairing a cabinet meeting, Embalo said some of the people involved had been arrested but he did not know how many.
Earlier on Tuesday, the state broadcaster had reported that “invaders” were detaining officials at the building while witnesses reported prolonged, heavy gunfire.
The 15-nation West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS, already grappling with three other military takeovers in member states over the last 18 months, called Tuesday’s violence a “coup attempt” and said it was following the situation in Bissau “with great concern.”
“ECOWAS condemns this coup attempt and holds the military responsible for the bodily integrity of President Umaro Sissoco Embalo and the members of his government,” the statement said in a tweet.
In Portugal, the country’s former colonial ruler, the Foreign Ministry said in a tweet: “We strongly condemn the attack on the government palace in Bissau and appeal for the immediate end of this violent action against the president and government of Guinea-Bissau. Constitutional order must be respected by all.”
Portuguese Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva condemned what he said was “armed activity” in Bissau.
More than dozen coup bids
Embalo, a former army general, was declared the winner of the December 2019 runoff vote, though the results were contested by his opponent, Domingos Simoes Pereira.
Embalo then started forming a new government with support from the military while a Supreme Court election challenge was still pending.
Since gaining independence from Portugal in 1974, Guinea-Bissau has experienced four coup d’etats and more than a dozen attempted coups.
The small nation of around 1.5 million people has long been beset by corruption and drug trafficking.
In the 2000s, it became known as a transit point for cocaine between Latin America and Europe as traffickers profited from corruption and weak law enforcement.
West Africa has seen a spate of military takeovers since August 2020, with military juntas grabbing power in Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso.
Despite international pressure for a return to constitutional rule, none of the military rulers have yet to organise new elections.